Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday Fricassee

Another tip of my feathered hat to you for your thoughtful critique.  Good stuff all around!

So I want to respond to several of your comments that suggested more in-depth query critique would be helpful; that hinted at the desire to offer more than one sentence--to go into more detail.

Some of you prefaced your comments with the equivalent of, "I know you're opposed to query critique, but..."

I'd like to clarify.  I'm not "opposed to query critique."  I would venture to say that I am a critique junkie, addicted to the solid fact that nobody's writing goes ANYWHERE without critique.  And that includes queries.

What I am opposed to is what I call the OVER-SHOPPED QUERY LETTER.  And I've already blogged about it here.

In short, opening a query letter to in-depth critique by a pool of critters, and then responding to as many of the suggestions as possible, runs the risk of producing a query that isn't really yours.  In the end, my view of the query letter is that it's a business communique (as I outline in Agent: Demystified), plain and simple.  Of course, unlike a business letter, it needs a HOOK, which is unique to the worlds of writing and film.  But other than that, it's a professional letter that hopes to initiate a professional relationship.  End of story.

Yes, we DO need feedback on whether or not we're hooking. But I'd prefer to err on the side of caution and not subject posted queries to the grist mill.

So please take a minute to read the almost-3-years-old blog post so that you understand where I'm coming from.

And have a MARVELOUS weekend!


  1. I agree with this. Wholeheartedly. It's great to put your query up somewhere to get feedback and see if you're really hooking someone? But at the same time -- I think too many people try to tell you what to write and that's a problem. In the end, you wind up losing your voice.

    There's a vast difference between hearing x,y,z confused me and hearing "I don't like this sentence, it should be this instead". One lets you flesh the query out a bit more. The other... runs the risk of losing your voice and the tone you wanted in your query.

    AAAAAND I'll get down off my soapbox. Ahem.

  2. My last attempt at public query critique on my blog had a lot of sweet, helpful people commenting...but I'm afraid it did just that. Overshopped it.

    All the "how to" posts suggest that you have a TON of people tear apart your query letter, but I've been suspicious that maybe the best people to be looking at them *is* people who have actually read the book.

    I've already shot myself in the foot by sending out what may be a generic query letter (and it actually may be the reason for my VERY low req rate,) but when it's time to query the next MS, I'm definitely taking this to heart.

    Thanks, Authoress. :)

  3. Oh man, you'd hate my query. I posted it everywhere :-)

    But even looking at it now, I can't see anything in it that isn't my voice. Whenever people made suggestions, I did the same thing I do with novel critiques: I consider it, then mold it into something I would've actually written.

  4. I think it really depends on what advice your critiquers are giving. If they're specifically telling you what sentences to write, then yes, the voice will get lost. But if they're just giving you general advice and leaving it to you to sort out, then the query will still be in your own voice, but the query will be better focused.

    As one one of those who received query critiques in this contest, I found the shorter critiques immensely helpful. Many people said, "You don't need Y in there, what I'm really more interested in is hearing more about X." Taking their advice didn't require changing my voice, just my focus.

    The one-sentence limit probably helped in this -- it kept anyone from nitpicking individual words and sentences. I think allowing 2-3 sentences would work just as well, but once you get into whole paragraphs, it gives people the space to be specific, which leads to the destruction of original voice that you worry about.

  5. I am on my way to reading your old post, but I tend to agree with you. When you open up to full critiques you end up with people doing full-scale rewrites: "Hey, this paragraph doesn't work for me, try it like this" and the next thing you know, they've redone the whole thing. I think it's probably better to hear something like "I don't get a sense of the MC" or "Stakes don't feel high enough." Of course, getting too much of that can also lead to Paralysis by Analysis, but that's another story. Or at least a different side of the coin.

  6. I'm not at the querying stage yet -- still polishing at the moment -- but I've read A LOT of queries and A LOT of advice and I have to say, I think you're right. The queries I've seen get crit in public forums are just remolded into the same format and generic voice as everything else.

    Certainly, there is a lot crit can help with -- such as identifying a weak premise or hook, or character soup issues -- but really, we as authors need to learn to look at what we write with a critical eye, and think 'How is this selling my writing?' as well as 'How is this selling my concept?'

    Thanks for this post, it's really made me think. Now I must stop, for my cat has started to dig under the laptop in the hopes of dislodging it from my lap and my attention.

  7. I hope this doesn't come accross as snarky, but I think, from my own experience, that you know you're ready to submit a manuscript when you are able to write the query without help. Sure, it's important to have a few readers, but shopping it? I'm totally with you.

    Writing the query is just the first part of that type of writing. Once you get an agent/editor, there will be website content as well as blurbs galore that you will need to take part in. So if you can't come up with a reasonably enticing brief synopsis, you're toast.

  8. yeah i agree. I don't have a problem with posting the query and getting thoughts on it, but i'm always very careful to throw out anything that i strikes me as even a little apart from what i'm going for.
    And i really liked the one sentence critique.

  9. My Dear Authoress,

    I read your "almost-3-years-old blog post," in which you advise against fretting over one's query letter, which is "not the big, scary monster it's been made out to be."

    I beg to differ. It's horribly frightening. It keeps me up at night, eyes wide open, heart pounding. It haunts my dreams.

    Without a fabulously-written query letter, I fear my work shall forever languish in the dreaded pile of the slush. I write and rewrite my query letter, but it never seems to capture the essense of my writing style, or me. Advisors tell me, "Start here, cut this, say that, rework this line, put this in, turn that around, toss it, burn it, shred it, forget it."

    I write an amazing novel and yet, I can't write a decent query letter to save my soul.

    And you tell us not to fret? How can we not?

  10. My dear Karen E --

    In order to be successful at anything, we must STOP FRETTING.

    Once you learn to view it as a business letter instead of a main artery attached to your novel and your soul, it will stop keeping you up at night. I promise.

    You CAN write a decent query letter. You just need some perspective first. :-)

  11. Dear Authoress,

    You're right. The query letter is a business letter. It must be succinct and impeccably written so as not to irritate the agent or waste a drop of the agent's precious time. Accepted guidelines relative to content and length are followed implicitly. The letter's singular purpose is to pique the agent's interest enough for her to take a second look.

    You're right, Authoress. Of course, you're right.

    But the query letter is as much a part of the writer's novel as it is the writer who penned it. The novelist creates something out of nothing, in spite of everything, and dares hope that she somehow spun her gossamer tale into a work of substance and purpose; that she molded it into something—if not of beauty, then, at least, of value.

    Did she?

    The question and its implications are moot if the query letter fails to do its job. . .and so, in effect, everything is riding on that letter; don't you see?

    Karen E.

  12. Of course I see, Karen. But one has to rise above all that to be effective. It is the bane of the aspiring author--having to rise above the emotional implications inherent to the art form in order to approach the entire thing as a business venture.

    It's necessary for survival - and success! :-)

  13. Authoress,

    I know you're right, but it's so hard to separate everything from the task. It's so hard to do that.

    I know you're right.

    Thank you. Karen

  14. *hugs* It IS hard. But you CAN do it. :-)